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How many things do you take for granted?

Photo by Lee Scott on Unsplash

A recent mishap with household plumbing brought home an oft-forgotten truth; it is only when you lose something that you realise how important it is to you.

In this case, lugging buckets of heated water around brought home the value of being able to have a shower when you wish, without having to plan the event. It was a reminder that running water is a luxury for many on this planet.

But that made me think: what else do we also appreciate only when it’s gone? Electricity, of course, is one. When it is coursing through our homes and offices, powering our lives and devices, all is well. When it’s switched off and we descend into darkness and helplessness, the loss is acute. And these days, internet connectivity is just as essential for most people. Deny the modern person their link to the web, and they become hamstrung.

If you’re a power or network provider, don’t expect your consumers to thank you every day, though. Only recently recruited users will feel the gratitude. Most seasoned folks in the urban throng will take electricity and broadband thoroughly for granted, in the category of things that are only appreciated in their absence. That’s just how it is. They won’t thank you when they have it; but they’ll certainly curse you when they don’t.

Here’s another one: clean air. We breathe in all the time, but we are not aware of it – until what we inhale becomes polluted and problematic. Then, we miss the fresh air we used to have. That’s a common feeling in modern Nairobi, with its myriad pollutions emanating from vehicles, construction sites and other befoulers, and from our short-sighted habit of felling trees.

Good health? Thoroughly taken for granted when we have it, neither appreciated nor respected. Until it’s gone, when we hark back to the days of being mobile and able-bodied.

We can take this to the workplace, too. A growing economy? No one even notices that one when it’s happening – only when the music stops and suddenly there aren’t enough chairs for everyone to sit on. In all my decades of advising businesses, I’ve never known them to appreciate the ‘boom’ part of the cycle until the ‘bust’ has happened.

What about excellent employees? You know, the ones who quietly and effectively get things done for you, but don’t say or ask for much? Do you recognise and appreciate them all the time? Nope. Only after they’re gone, and an entitled, ever-whining scrounger takes their place…that’s when you’ll see what you had.

And lastly, there are of course the loving presences in our lives. These are rarely appreciated when present; and missed acutely when lost. In particular, our mothers’ selflessness, and their relentless work in organising our lives – these are most often honoured in the void that comes after their departures.

What’s the point of these meandering musings today? Once we become aware of the things that matter so much to us, should we hold on to them for dear life? Not at all. Try as we might, we can’t stop the loss of things that matter, whether temporary or permanent. Even if you set up all the backup contingencies in the world, you will lose essential services from time to time. Good times will end. Health issues will arise. People will leave, sometimes for ever.

There are only two things in our remit as humans: first, to appreciate all that is good in our lives when we have it, and do what we can to keep it; and second; to accept its passing with grace and equanimity when we lose it.

The unit of life is the day. If you are having a good day, note it and be grateful. If water and electricity and data are flowing; if people are present and loving and helpful; if your body is able and active – all these are worthy of quiet appreciation and celebration.

It might not be so; it is not so for many; and it won’t always be so.

Equally, a darker day may also descend. It may contain the minor loss of convenience; or the more serious loss of health or companionship or livelihood. That day, too, is one of the units of your life. It is to be accepted and suffered, just as the good days were accepted and celebrated. It is not an anomaly; it’s part of the deal.

How goes your day? Look around and see what you should be honouring and appreciating.

(Sunday Nation, 4 August 2019)

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